By Stan Santos
It is the late winter of 2018, and the skies shed their last tears in our cherished San Joaquin Valley. The land continues providing wealth to the rich, food and shelter to poor and working families, and a place to grow for thousands of children. The seasons change before our eyes; the rains have quenched the earth and the landscape is lush and green.
As springtime approaches, the soil has been tilled and fertilized and we plant the warm-season vegetables: tomatoes, melons, corn, beans and other crops. The grapevines lie dormant and carefully pruned, awaiting the green leaves and buds.
Life during this time of year is usually full of hope. But this year, not all who live and work here can share in the bounties. The men and women who harvest the food, pour the cement, build luxurious homes, cook the food and care for green spaces where the children play are targets for arrest and separation from their families. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) threatens their future.
For immigrants’ rights groups, these are the most challenging times we have seen since the late 1920s and 1930s. Known as the “Decade of Betrayal,” authorities violated the U.S. Constitution and deported 1.8 million persons, most of whom were U.S. citizens.
Today, some efforts that rely on legal advocacy are finding that there are not enough volunteer or pro bono attorneys and funds for more complex proceedings. Emergency response networks have sprung up across the nation, sponsored by faith and community groups.
One of the most successful models is being implemented by La Red and PICO (Pacific Institute for Community Organization). The PICO strategy also involves bringing the cause of immigrants to church leaders and elected officials, drawing them into the fight. In the Central Valley, this initiative is known as Valley Watch.
Ultimately, the solution lies in the hands of everyone— undocumented and legal residents, students, workers and community leaders. Pressure must be mounted until it reaches a critical mass of sufficient strength to force Congressional representatives to support a moratorium on ICE actions in the workplace and against non-criminal immigrants.
Somos del Agua (We Are the Water)
As we face the oppressive onslaught in 2018, I remember something I wrote in 2011, after witnessing the dismantling of a homeless camp in Fresno.
I believe life is like the water that envelopes our earth, la Madre Tierra. We join the great migration when we are born with the morning dew. We rise through the atmosphere and travel across borders and continents.
We gather in gentle, yet powerful, formations and fall to the earth in massive cloudbursts. We engorge the rivers as they rush to the sea, itself, a huge celebration of life. Then the cycle begins anew.
We are transformed during our journey as we share our environment with those who travel with us and those who came before. Our lives merge as we breathe their air and they breathe ours. And we become part of a community, a nation, a higher organism.
This notion that our lives are shared runs contrary to those who elevate the solitary, rugged individual, “going it alone” to heroes’ status. They condemn us when we say, “We are one (Somos uno)!” Our expression, “Tu eres mi otro yo (You are my other me)” is reduced to indigenous naivety. They laugh when we cry out in protest at their greed and lack of compassion for humanity and nature.
There are times when we grow weary with the weight of so many lives, so much suffering, but something transforms us when we join the struggle to create a better world.
The commitment literally comes from the heart. We forget that important organ with thousands of sensory neurons for processing information, which operates instinctively and thrives on giving and receiving love. Every time we touch another life, we give them a part of our heart. When we fight for a just cause, it is usually against seemingly insurmountable odds. And it is our heart muscle that is engaged, racing at full throttle, thinking for us.
Win, lose or draw, we come away from every campaign satisfied that we held high the banner of justice, even when there was not enough time, resources or people. Every battle takes its toll because the forces aligned against us are too powerful, their aggression too violent.
Dear friends and fellow travelers in this movement grow old before our eyes, bearing the scars of many struggles; some succumb. We pause to remember them and cry the tears of vindication, certain that someday, we will prevail, and the oppressive empire will fall. Until that day comes, we will continue to share the gifts of our hearts until they are all gone, and we join the ancestors.
I take comfort in the knowledge that tomorrow, at a church, packing house or poor neighborhood in our beautiful Valley, I will not be alone in my journey to the sea.
An enduring solution to the unjust treatment of immigrants is not an illusion, and it should not be limited to winning elections. It requires a dialogue that educates all sectors of the community regarding the historic underpinnings of migration from the south to the north. We need to be able to articulate why we must establish protections for the workers and poor who cross borders to feed their families.
We must fight on two fronts and simultaneously include international trade and development justice and recognition of the even more fundamental human rights of those who wish to remain in their home countries. We need to build a mass movement to do the hard work—a movement that we have not seen since the 1960s.
Volunteers from all walks are asked to support the efforts of Faith in the Valley, the Central Valley Immigrants’ Rights Committee and other advocates. You can join Valley Watch as a dispatcher, observer and witness for justice.
Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at alianzadefresno@ gmail.com.